We tend to view repetition in the context of improving a first serve, memorizing principles of organic chemistry, and perfecting the dance move. It feels natural to practice task-oriented skills. But we don’t talk about how to be more passionate, more empathetic, more persistent and more of a thousand other attitudes.
Cultivating an emotional state is no less rewarding than learning C++ or knitting a sweater, and the rewards have deep intrinsic value. One attitude I’ve focused on recently is being more present in my day-to-day. I’ve been working on notice the small things around me (e.g. the curious design of the Chelsea Market, the way the sun hits the New York skyline) and live more purposefully (e.g. I’m going to listen to this Mixergy podcast because I want to learn how entrepreneurs solve problems). Another attitude is being more grateful for what I have. Practicing a more appreciative mindset has helped me shed negative thinking and improve my overall well-being.
The finiteness of time weighs on you as you age, and you learn to prioritize not only your hobbies and interests, but also your relationships. You notice that acquaintances steadily filter themselves out of the picture. You watch your LinkedIn connection count grow as you lose touch with your high school relationships. You realize that birthday dinners are the rare occasion that can bring the whole crew back together. On the other hand, never have you appreciated more A) the time spend with those who value yours, and B) how easy it is to make new friends. Even though it took you over two decades to sort yourself out, you’re grateful that this shiny new sense of self allows you to quickly sort out which of these strangers at a house warming will be your future homies.
Build a strong network, and never underestimate the power of being likable. In a job market where even the most skilled roles are shipped overseas, technical competency doesn’t cut it. A firm’s most strategic hires are well-connected individuals that bring both their old clients and smart friends with them to the firm. A well-connected employee is not a replaceable cog. Their value can’t be automated.
This feels antithetical to the emphasis on well-roundedness that pervades the realms of higher education. As entitled millennials, many of us feel pressured to excel across all dimensions. But only in fiction do you see role models who embody this perfection to which we aspire. Because we’re limited to a finite supply of time and energy, excellence in any area of your life comes with major trade-offs. Brilliant businessmen might fail in their personal lives. Phenomenal pro athletes might read at a middle school level. As much as I want to be a scholar-dancer-novelist-musician-entrepreneur-engineer-chef savant, I’ve realized I’m most effective when focusing on one or two things at a time. Sure, the pursuit of excellence and exploration of a diversity of interests aren’t mutually exclusive, but multitask serious pursuits of your passions at your own risk...
High-achievers often get caught in wanting to do too much at once. For the longest time, I thought I could get away with a day as packed as this: “I’m going to get a solid lift in the morning, grab brunch with Susie at 11, read two chapters in that book, work for three hours on that prototype with Jimmy, grab dinner with Ari, read the news for an hour, catch up with family on Skype, and finally head out to Eddie’s house warming for no more than three drinks.” In executing on unrealistic agendas like this, I’d stress constantly – only to fall short nearly every time. I attributed my failures to laziness and incompetency, and felt miserable even on days when a lot was accomplished. All this time, however, I had set myself up for failure from the start. Growing more attune to and honest about my abilities has made me both happier and more productive.